(Written by Dexter Alapag Villanueva)
On the morning of August 5, 2005, around 9:40 am, I was typing furiously on my computer as I was rushing some paper works when I received a text message from my father in law. The message went like this: “PATAY NA RAW ROCO. ”
I couldn’t believe what I’ve read. Maybe a nasty joke aimed at those people calling for Arroyo’s resignation. I thought that he was already recovering from cancer and he’s in the US for continuous rehabilitation. Only weeks ago, I entertained the thought of seeing him as a senatorial candidate for 2007. I even admired his current stand on the Gloriagate scandal where he called on Arroyo’s resignation, “por la patria.”
I then sent text messages to some people who could verify the news. First, to my fellow student council officers from the University of the East (UE) who formed part of the UE Student Leaders for Roco. I got no confirmation from them. Then I sent a message to my wife to see if the news has reached the Makati business district where she works. “No, not yet,” she replied. I also sent a text message to former UE President Baltazar Endriga, who was my wedding sponsor and a friend of Sen. Roco. He told me to verify it. Finally, I called the Roco Kapunan Law office at Strata building, which was transformed into a headquarters of the Roco campaign for 2004. I asked the dreaded question: “Is it true that RSR (Sen.Roco’s initial’s that was sometimes used as his reference) is gone?” The female voice on the other line answered yes, “It’s true. The senator died at past 9 am at St. Lukes hospital,” continued the female voice. I thanked her for the information. The female voice on the other line advised me to call the office if I needed further information. That’s so nice of her.
After confirming RSR’s death, I proceeded to text those people whom I asked for verification earlier. “Too bad,” replied one. “Mukhang nauubos ang kalaban ni GMA, pareho pang sa St. Luke’s namayapa,” replied another one. (Fernando Poe Jr. also died in St. Lukes.)
With Senator Roco permanently gone from this mortal and wounded world, I just can’t help but remember the elections of 1998 and 2004. For casual observers and non-believers, both elections would remind them of his defeats as a presidential candidate. For me, and many others, I will remember it as a gallant struggle to correct the many wrongs and to maintain what is left of the good.
Others would think that he was not a team player and a coalition builder which is a must to muster the needed votes to clinch the presidency. I think it’s okay for Senator Roco to be branded as a loser. That’s perfectly all right, because his loss is an honorable one, and he fought a great fight, unlike others who managed to win an election or two, but whose mandate is contested because of the circumstances surrounding their electoral victories. It’s better to win fair and square than to win using resources not allowed by election laws.
I also believe that the observation made by some which states that he was not a coalition builder may sound true enough. After all, you may not want to coalesce with some brusque, loud, and corrupt people. If that’s the meaning of it, I’d rather take it willingly, just like what Sen. Roco did. In our political culture, idealism and politics don’t mix well. The time it mixes well, believe me we will move forward.
Senator Roco deserves the accolades due to a statesman of high moral and spiritual foundation. He was a lone moral fighter in the echelon of cheats, greedy, and monsters. Some of them are now heaping praises, eulogies, and tributes for him. Shame, shame, shame.
I met Senator Roco in the flesh twice in his lifetime. The first one was at the height of EDSA Dos. If I am not mistaken, it was on the third night when he announced at the EDSA shrine some updates on the negotiations between the opposition and some emissaries of Ex-President Erap Estrada regarding the latter’s graceful exit from power. It was the first time I shook hands with him, and we were in the middle of throngs of admirers. I told him he did a great job as a senator-judge. He smiled and said that it was already up to the people to make the crucial decision (on the fate of Erap). I felt that what he meant was that he could no longer discharge his duty as a senator-judge because the impeachment trial had lost its credibility and moral ascendancy when the pro-Erap senators refused to open the second envelope.
When Ex-Laguna Governor Joey Lina went to the microphone, he led the crowd in chanting “Bise, Bise, Bise!” which meant that Senator Roco should be appointed as Vice President of the Philippines once Arroyo assumes the presidency on the basis of constitutional succession. Senator Roco just smiled and thanked the crowd for the trust and confidence they had bestowed on him. Needless to say, the vice-presidential post went to Senator Tito Guingona.
The second time I saw the man was in February 2004 at a youth rally where we had a one-minute chat while he was visiting the Eulogio Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (Earist) Gym at Nagtahan. A few days before that, the office of the UE Student Council received an invitation from Aksyon Kabataan- San Beda chapter regarding a kick-off rally for Raul Roco and his Alyansa slate. I failed to attend the said rally because I had a prior commitment, and unfortunately, no one from my council officers was available. When the invitation for the Earist rally came, I readily went there to finally express my support for Anak ng Bayan, who sponsored the event, and for the whole Alyansa ng Pag-asa slate.
I brought along some of our student council officers, some officers and members of the UE Political Science Society, and a number of UE students who were supportive of Roco’s presidential candidacy. All of them later on, formed part of the UE Student Leaders for Roco. With Senator Roco then was the entire Alyansa slate.
When he was about to leave the Earist Gym for another engagement, I approached him, introduced myself as a student council president and asked for an autograph on a magazine with him on the cover. He glanced at it, smiled then said “Parang hindi ko pa nababasa ito ha?!” I didn’t know if he was just kidding or not, but he signed the copy anyway and thanked me for the gesture. I thought, “No. I should thank you for giving your best shot for us.” He thanked me again and said “See you soon!”
In my own humble way, I got involved in the Roco campaign. I was busy campaigning in school, in my community (Angono, Rizal), in my office where I worked at night (I was a working student). I also joined a coalition called Luzviminda Forum, which supported Roco’s candidacy, going far as producing stickers and posters. My girlfriend (now my wife) was very helpful because she also campaigned at her work place for Senator Roco.
At UE, we were then planning a school-wide mock elections and a presidential debate as part of our electoral education campaign. Problem was we were running out of time because the final exams were just around the corner. The student council settled for a school-wide survey and a mock elections scheduled in April in time for the annual UE Student Leaders Training seminar where a formal turn over of the student council is done incoming and outgoing council officers.
In the UE student council survey, Roco led by a slim margin (33 %), followed by GMA with (32 %), Lacson (18 %), FPJ (6 %), Bro. Eddie Villanueva (6 %), and 4% as undecided. The mock election results showed that Senator Roco was at the top with 48 %, GMA with 32 %, Lacson (16 %), Bro Eddie Villanueva (4 %), and FPJ getting no votes at all. In another survey undertaken by the UE school paper “The DAWN,” Roco was a close second to GMA. Lacson was at third place followed by FPJ and Bro. Eddie.
After much thought, Roco could have gotten more votes in UE than the rest of the candidates , if not for the sudden implementation of the Student fund (S4R) of GMA. S4R allowed students to loan their tuition expenses and pay for it after graduation, a rehash of Ninoy Aquino’s “Study now, Pay later” scheme drafted by Senator Roco decades ago. We called that deliberate move “Sophisticated Vote Buying.” Some fellow student leaders from other schools couldn’t agree more. Because of the S4R, many UE students switched sides to GMA, which in our calculation amounted to 10 – 15 percent. In fact, S4R was even launched at the Araneta Coliseum. UE was invited but we in the student council and other other student organizations boycotted the launch knowing it was a trick. Look at S4R now, you can’t even borrow a single cent from it! Lack of Funds? We knew they would say that after the elections. Remember that this happened prior to Senator Roco’s announcement of his chronic back pains in April 2004.
In another mock elections, this time at the office I worked for, Roco led with 35 %, Bro. Eddie with 21%, Lacson with 19%, FPJ and GMA tied with 11%.
Trust and Confidence. That’s what I had for Senator Roco. Although admittedly, I was against his support of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1995. For us who supported him all throughout his career, he was one person who could give decency and morality to national governance and was not afraid to say his piece. He showed that in all his years as a public servant. He abhorred the politics of machismo and the politics of arrogance. He put premium on the politics of fair play, the politics of hope, the politics of nationalism, and the politics of transparency, hard work and scholarship, thus his reliance on “the sunshine principle” — a principle he firmly believed will make the Filipino proud, progressive, and respectable.
I can still recall a group discussion I had with some friends sometime in November of 1997. In the huddle, we were talking about the then upcoming 1998 presidential elections. One of my friends remarked that the said elections lackluster because he couldn’t see anyone as qualified as Salonga or Laurel. Someone in the group observed that Erap was a phenomenal candidate but someone countered that he lacked intelligence. Joe de Venecia was as dry as desert, and Renato de Villa was quite uncharismatic. When it was my turn to speak, I said that “If Roco runs as President, I’m for him all the way, he may not be as charismatic as Erap, but he can match up to anyone in terms of governance, track record, genuine love for the people, and by bringing hope to where hope is extremely needed.” Some of my friends felt the same. They felt Roco was the one needed to restore our country’s positive image. The one who could give the much needed inspiration to rally the nation. One who will secure a better future for the next generation of Filipinos by providing equal access to education, from elementary to college. For Roco, education is the one great equalizer in this country of unequal opportunities. Unfortunately, many people did not heed that call in 1998. Roco was best prepared for the presidency, but the people were not prepared for him.
That last encounter I had with him at the Earist gym was the one that immediately flashed on my mind when news of his death was confirmed. At that moment, I just can’t help but recall it once again and talk about it in the office as if I knew him personally. An officemate, who was a graduate from the University of the Philippines, remarked “He is a Great Man, we just lost a great man.” Another officemate who came from San Beda high school and De La Salle University said that “I am a proud Bedan because Roco represented us well.” I told him to be “proud as a La Sallalite” not only for its basketball team but because another great intellectual and nationalist, Lorenzo Tañada, was educated there.
With Roco’s death, he is now enshrined with the likes of Recto, Diokno, Tañada, et. al. What was going on in my mind while my officemates were giving their praises for Roco was the phrase “The great President that never was.” A great one indeed. Just like Claro M. Recto and Jovito Salonga, Roco was one statesman who could have been our President if not for the politics and the electoral system we have. I cannot nor do I have the right to blame the electorate. They are mere victims of the vicious cycle of dirty, feudal, and immoral politics.
Roco’s crusade for the betterment of his country and people was not a quixotic job for there are still many out there, especially among the youth that Roco can depend on. He invested his energetic zest, vast experience, and admirable intelligence to sow the seeds of goodness and to spread and delegate the work for a better Philippines. We, the youth of this land, must continue what Roco and other distinguished people, including the unheralded ones, have started to work for: a great country with a great people. It may sound like a clique but we have no choice but to continue fighting, to continue dreaming, to continue praying, and to continue aspiring simply because to stop is to fail. This, I firmly and honestly believe, is the marching order given by Senator Roco minutes before he retired permanently. His influence must transcend and must not only be felt in San Beda or in any other schools he visited, not only in Bicol or in other communities he went to. His influence and his legacy must be propagated now and must be felt everywhere because we need it now more than ever.
We have just lost a harbinger of hope, a human bastion of greatness. But it’s only his physical body that went away. To rephrase a quote from his brother Ding, his dream, his aspiration, his seed of devotion to good governance shall continue with his family in the forefront, with his wife Sonia as the protector of the flame, and with the rest of those who unconditionally supported him until the last votes were canvassed and those who refused to be bought, both known and unknown to Senator Roco.
There is a marching order from Roco: Let the seed spread. Your will be done sir. We will spread the seeds and we shall pay it forward. Goodbye, Mr. President.
Dexter Villanueva, 29, studied Political Science at University of the East – Manila, and was a former president of the UE Political Science Society, former president of the UE Student Council, and a former Vice Chairperson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) – NCR Rizal Chapter. He now works as a Technical Writer for Systems and Plan Integrator and Development Corp. (SPIDC), an IT – based company and works part-time as a speechwriter. He organized and headed the UE Student Leaders for ROCO and endorsed the youth party list group ANAK NG BAYAN for the 2004 elections.